Elizabethan Pastry, Please!

I grew up in Cedar City, Utah, a small town known for its fantastic Shakespearean Festival. If you’re ever passing through Southern Utah on I-15 in the summer time, pull off that freeway and go see one of the Bard’s plays. It’s well worth it!  The best part?  Aside from hearing Will’s words spoken aloud by fantastic actors wearing gorgeous costumes inside beautiful theaters, it’s the tarts!  As a kid I looked forward to munching on these little hand-sized pies every summer. I couldn’t wait to attend the Green Show, where actors sing and dance and entertain the crowds for free before the plays begin, and Elizabethan costume-clad hawkers wander about with large baskets of treats, including these wonderful tarts. Apple, lemon, cream cheese…sigh.

For me, any hint of Elizabethan England will forever bring thoughts of pastry to mind, especially  pies and tarts. Recently,  I wondered if an online search would help me find a “copycat” recipe so I could make something similar to the wonderful treats I enjoy whenever I’m in Cedar City, that look like this:

Festival Tarts

Hmmm…so far, my online searches revealed delicacies like this from http://www.historicfood.com

Sculpted Pie of Wonders

Ok, wow. A work of art, but this bad boy isn’t something I want to try. Just looking at it makes me feel tired. All I want is a little tart now and then!  A bit more searching dug up a link to a newspaper article all about the amazing Festival Tarts, as I call them. Unfortunately, according to the article,  the tart recipe is kept secret. Not closely guarded in a vault, mind you, but thus far I haven’t found any copycat recipes. Apparently, it’s all in the crust, a secret combination of flour, sugar and pixie dust that results in something halfway between a sugar cookie and a traditional pie crust. It’s soft, slightly flaky but not too much so, and delicious. *sigh* No tarts for me!

Last week, a lovely friend of mine named Spring, who happens to be a fantastic baker, searched for Elizabethan-era recipes  and found this resource: http://www.cs.cmu.edu/afs/andrew.cmu.edu/org/Medieval/www/src/docs/apple-orange-tarte.html

This gives information found in the book:  The Good Huswifes Handmaid for Cookerie in her kitchen, circa 1588. What a great title!

So far it’s the only authentic cooking resource I’ve been able to find that includes a recipe for pastry crust. Anyway, my amazing friend tried the recipe herself and on my birthday presented me with a lovely plate filled with lemon and blueberry tarts. They weren’t “Festival Tarts,” but they were delicious AND the crust was made with an authentic Elizabethan recipe! Take a look at these:

My Birthday Tarts!

The crust is sturdy, but still tender and not hard. This was great–I’m the type who hates a pastry crust that explodes in a shower of flaky crumbs the second you take a bite. Stiffer pastry crust recipes like these were probably used to create the above-pictured “sculpted pie of wonders.” If you’re not into pastry art, this crust recipe would be great for meat pies, or pies with fillings of the weightier variety, like say, pecan. Here’s the recipe, as tried and tested by my friend Spring:

 Elizabethan Lemon Tarts

Crust Ingredients:

2 ½ cups flour

½ cup butter

6 Tbsp water

3 egg yolks


Lemon Curd Filling:

(adapted from a lemon bar recipe from www.barefootcontessa.com)

2 eggs

1 cup sugar

1/3 cup flour

1/3 cup juice squeezed from fresh lemons

zest from 1 lemon

To make the crust, mix the egg yolks with the flour. On the stove, bring the water to boil and melt in the butter. Add the water/butter mixture to the flour and eggs and mix well until a dough forms. (Spring notes that it mixed fairly well but she needed to add another tablespoon of water). Roll out the dough using additional flour as needed and cut into circles for tarts. Bake for 7 minutes in a hot oven (425 degrees).

To make the lemon curd, combine all ingredients and mix well, but be careful to not over stir, so the mixture won’t get too frothy. Spoon the lemon curd into the baked tart shells and bake again for 6 minutes to set the filling.  Dust with powdered sugar when complete.

Lemon Tarts–crust made with the “Good Husewife’s” recipe

For the blueberry tarts, Spring used commercial pie filling. I think any filling you choose would work great.

I’m going to keep looking for a recipe that duplicates as closely as possible the tarts they make each summer for the Utah Shakespearean Festival.  If I find a way to make a fairly decent recreation of the pastries, I’ll share it here. In the meantime, follow the “good huswife’s” recipe I’ve shared for pastry crust and make a batch of tarts to snarf while watching your favorite Shakespearean play on film. Then consider heading to Utah next summer so you can try some authentic Festival Tarts yourself. Maybe even take in a play or two. ?




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6 thoughts on “Elizabethan Pastry, Please!”

  1. I need a recipe for raspberry pie quoted in Elizabethan language and made the way it was made in this time period

    1. Rebecca Bischoff

      Now you’ve got me intrigued…raspberries are my favorite fruit and I’d love to find a historic recipe like that!

  2. Thanks for the article! I am doing these for a school presentation, do you know how many crusts the original recipe makes?

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